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Archived Online Discussion
Topic: You Shall Be My Witnesses - Lessons Beyond Dachau
Date: 5-6 pm (ET)
on Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Carl Anderson
Supreme Knight
Fr. Szymczak
Lomianki, Poland
Carl Anderson:
Thank you all for joining us this evening as we discuss "You Shall Be My Witnesses."

Jim Barrett
Crescent City, California. USA.
I was shocked by much in "You Shall Be My Witnesses", but most by the idea of Jesus being an optimist on the cross. Is it a new idea? Do you know of any other writings about Jesus saying "This day you shall be with me in paradise" that you recommend?
Carl Anderson:
This is a beautiful idea. We must always remember that the suffering on the cross was redemptive - and was followed by the resurrection. This is not something often discussed culturally, but the fact is that as Catholics we believe that suffering has redemptive value, and as such, as horrible as it may be to experience, there is always a benefit. In the case of Christ, his death on the cross - as we just recalled during Lent - was our means to salvation - as it was the good thief's, so there is an element of optimism and of God's great love for us, and as Fr. Szymczak points out, there is a scriptural basis for this belief.

Fr. Szymczak:
The optimism is the joy of a son who is fulfilling the will of his father. "For God has loved the world so much that he gave his only begottonen son," so we can go as far as reading goes. Especially in the year of St. Paul, we recommend reading St. Paul as a witness of that. It is only "new" in the sense of the New hope for man, spoken in the new testament, for man saved by God who became man so that our joy is full.

Newport, RI
How was Archbishop Majdanski able to forgive those who had done such terrible things to him and others?
Fr. Szymczak:
Forgiveness cannot happen without the truth. The truth has to be told. So he was a witness of what happened, but at the same time as a Christian he could not "not forgive," just as we say in the Lord's prayer: forgive us our sins as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Former District Dputy Robert B. Camilleri
Las Vegas, Nevada
Since you have traveled to Poland, could you comment on what you believe makes the long suffering Polish people so strong. Is their staunch Catholicism in the face of evil a factor?
Carl Anderson:
Poland is a strongly Catholic country, and has a deep devotion to Our Lady. It has long been deeply Catholic, and its resistance to totalitarian regimes often had a religious component - as we saw with the Solidarity movement. In addition, more recently, the witness of men like Maximilian Kolbe, Archbishop Majdanski and of course, John Paul II, deepened the faith of this country even further.

Fr. Szymczak:
As I understand the question, it pertains to Poles in general. Poland survived over a century of enslavement thanks to her faith in Christ and thanks to the strength of her families. They kept the Polish tradition, Polish customs. The young generations of patriots were born and raised in them. Why don't I talk only about the second world war, but I get back to her earlier history? - Because this seems characteristic: Poland survived then, even though there was no Polish state, as it was partitioned among three invaders (Russia, Germany and Austria). There was a need to preserve the Polish language and the Polish land, as the enemies tried to deprive us of our identity. The most idealistic Poles faced persecution (such as deportation to Siberia). The experiences of the second world war seem even more painful, especially to those who were sent to death camps. But it seems that even there faith in God and a connection with the loved ones gave the strength to survive. For centuries Poland has had the Virgin Mary as her Queen. In her shrine at Jasna Gora, John Paul the Second said to His compatriots: "Here we have always been free". This is also an answer to your question: The Kingdom of Mary is the Kingdom of Her Son, because She does not keep anything for Herself but leads to Christ. In such a school the Polish nation has been raised for ages.

Edward Kasprzycki
Chicago, IL, USA
A very moving a powerful book. On this the second anniversary of His Excellency's death what do you think is one way we can carry his mission? How do you think we can prove ourselves to be worthy of being children of the Blessed Virgin?
Carl Anderson:
The Archbishop's legacy is one of protection of the family, and witnessing to the triumph of good over evil. He makes clear in his book that man without God risks doing violence to his neighbor - as he witnessed directly at Dachau. As found of the Institute of Studies on the Family, the Archbishop sought to strengthen families - a mission shared by the Knights of Columbus since its inception. We can carry on his mission by strengthening our own families in faith and love, and by working - every day, in every aspect of our life - to build a culture of life and a civilization of love. One concrete way for us to do this is by our example. In all of our interactions, and in every area of our life, we should each live out the Gospel message for all to see.

Fr. Szymczak:
The Archbishop while at the camp faced the civilization of death and devoted all his life to the service of the civilization of life, saving the family. He clearly emphasized that the civilization of death has an author in the person of the "liar and killer from the beginning", that it is therefore, firstly a civilization of a lie, and it is directed against God. Satan cannot destroy God, whom he hates, so destroys man, who was created in the image of God. The road to salvation leads through obedience to God, to His commandments. His proposal, His idea of man, of marriage and family is the most beautiful and solely good and saving to man, only thus can he be happy. In his last message, the Archbishop wrote "Let us listen so God in order to live". So as far as one road goes - it is to listen to God, follow His will (Facere Voluntatem Tuam!). What does the real Marian devotion mean? The Archbishop would tell us that it is being expressed this way. And not through words but through life. He was - as John Paul II was - a slave of Mary's. But he also pointed to a road somehow new, which he was the first to take: to give himself entirely to the Holy Family. In Dachau he was saved by St. Joseph. But St. Joseph at his shrine in the Polish city of Kalisz, to whom the prayers of the imprisoned priests went, is shown together with the entire Holy Family. Maybe we can think that such a sign of salvation is shown to us today by God (as in the last apparition in Fatima).

Dana Beaudry
Huntsville, AL USA
To be a witness for Christ do you not have to follow His teachings and not support evil like abortion and those who promote evil.
Carl Anderson:
On page 167, the Archbishop points out that we are either heading "for - or against life." Our witness must build up a culture of life and a civilization of love. As Pope Benedict has pointed out, our religion is not one of "no" but of "yes" to the loving message of Jesus Christ. We must preach that message, verbally, and through the silent witness of our lives. We must help people to understand that living the Gospel is liberating and that love and respect for the dignity of all people - especially the most helpless - is the key to a just society.

Fr. Szymczak:
Yes, this a correct statement it is worth pointing out the fact that we become witnesses to Christ not only through ourselves but through the power of the Holy Ghost. "When the Holy Ghost decends upon you, you will receive his power and you shall become witnesses. The lord Jesus does not promise his disciples an easy way there. If we want to follow him, we have to take up our cross and follow him. He also tells us that we must rejoice in the face of persecution. We must be the prophets of God's truth today. It is not an easy way. It is to be a sign of contradiction. It is also the life experience of Archbishop Majdanski. It is not an order not to be afraid, but an order not to be discouraged.

Jacob M
Dearborn Hts, MI
I read in Columbia that Archbishop Majdanski and his fellow seminarians and priests who survived Dachau committed themselves to protecting family life in Poland, in the name of St. Joseph. What fruits have the Church and society in Poland seen as a result of this commitment?
Fr. Szymczak:
He founded the Institute for Studies on the Family, and the Secular Institute of the Consecrated Life, the Institute of the Holy Family, considered by the former prisoners as a form of charity, which they promised to St. Joseph whom they asked to rescue them in Dachau. It was a novena that they prayed in Dachau. The prisoners found out that Nazis wanted to execute all the prisoners and destroy all traces of the camp. At that moment, the Polish priest started the novena to St. Joseph for rescue. On the seventh day of the novena, the American troops from General Patten's army rescued them. During the novena, the prisoners promised to create a work of charity as a way of thanksgiving and the Institute for Studies on Family is that work of charity. This has been a great suppport for Polish families around the world.

Tom Andrews
Glendale, CA
Not many people know that priests were targets of the Nazis. Why was there such a hatred of the Catholic Church?
Carl Anderson:
Historically, totalitarian regimes have often had a strong dislike of the Catholic Church precisely because it stands for the truth, and for the dignity of the human person. It was no different with the Nazis. They wanted total control - not only of the economy, or of the manpower - of the countries they occupied, but also of the minds of those they ruled. Martyrs - from the days of early Rome, to Thomas More, to those who died for their faith in Poland in World War II - all shared a belief in something greater than any earthly construction or government, and for the Nazis, like the tyrants before them, that was something they could not tolerate.

Fr. Szymczak:
Archbishop Majdanski used to point out that when he was being arrested no body asked him his name. That's how it was with all the priests and students of the seminary who were arrested. Their names were taken only later at the prison. They were arrested simply because they were Catholic and members of the clergy. It may seems strange that the cassock was enough reason for being arrested and tortured. The persecution of the church in Poland during the second world war was part of a program of disection of an entire nation, beginning with the destruction of the polish inteligentia, including the professors of the Krakow University arrested who were sent to the Sachsenhausen camp. Before the first of Sept 1939, nearly twenty percent of diocesean priests were killed in prison, execution, or conscentration camps. All in all, nearly 50% were removed from their work. Most of those who died were in their prime and most active in their work. In the camp of Dachau, every third martyred person was polish and every second prisoned priest was killed. As poland suffered from two totalitarian regimes, the Nazi and the Soviet one, both of them fought against the Catholic Church. Perhaps this is a trait we should pay attention to. Perhaps hatred of the church is a trait of totalitariansm,along with the enslavement of men and depriving him of his dignity and freedom.

Philip R.
Seattle, WA
His book for me was a remarkable account of a horrific time and situation; but how did this time affect how he lived his faith later?
Carl Anderson:
I think that like Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI the trauma of World War II helped shape their belief in the need for God in our society, in their belief and work for the dignity of the human person, and in their strong desire to build a culture of life. But we see something important in the Archbishop's time in prison too. We see how important the Eucharist and sacrament of confession were to the young Majdanski. His love for God, and his desire to serve him and work for a better world were consistent before and after Dachau.

Fr. Szymczak:
The experience of a concentration camp remained in the psychology of the prisoners, as did the physical strain. Can we picture the destruction wreaked in a human organism just by hunger which lasts for years? Being released from the camp did not mean the end of the camp nightmare either. There is a lot of research on that subject. You can express it best through the title of walda poltawski, "and I am afraid of my dream". Indeed, especially in the dreams the nightmare of the camp returned to many former prisoers until the end of their life. That does not mean the destruction of the faith. It is actually the other way around. The camp, the civilization of death, was a satanic one; therefore salvation was only in God. And the usual test of faith is forgiveness. The Archbishop wondered, how can I as a disciple of Christ not forgive? Of course, forgiveness requires clarity in telling the truth. The experience of the camps was like a trial by fire. The faith could collapse, but in many cases it came out strengthened.

Joseph Riley
Boston, MA
Do you think that the Archbishop saw the world after WWII moving toward or away from God? Was he hopeful for the future?
Fr. Szymczak:
As he was getting close to the end of his life he realized how this world was moving toward perdition: divorcing families, the escatlation of abortion, the disection of marriage. At the same time, despite realizing the gravity of this danger, the more he trusted God, as he is the one who can save us, Satan was defeated. We are waiting for the new heaven and the new earth. For us, this is the time of labor with growing, unyielding hope. The Archbishop never gave up.

Cateret, NJ
Do you know anything about the status of Bishop Michael Kozal's cause for canonization? Are any of the other priests and seminarians mentioned in the book -- or Archbishop Majdanski himself -- being considered for sainthood?
Fr. Szymczak:
There are already 108 priests who are beatified, martyrs of the concentration camps, including Bishop Kozal. So we're waiting for the advancement toward sainthood, but for now, he is among the blessed. One needs to wait five years from the moment of death before the process for canonization can begin, but we are praying for it.

Juan X. Riviera
San Antonio, TX
The author mentions meeting SS men who were former Catholics, and yet they were persecuting the Church. We also know that there were many Catholics who were killed or worked to help the inmates (like Oskar Schindler). What do you think drew these SS men away from religion and into the darkness of Nazism?
Carl Anderson:
No one can say for sure what happened in any individual case, but as a general rule, Archbishop Majdanski gives us a good indication. He notes that "Without God, [man] will die mercilessly at the hand of man - man who has rebelled against God." In other words, once society - and those within it - reject God's message of love of God and neighbor, the results can be devastating.

Fr. Szymczak:
This is what is referred to as the mysterium iniquitatis, the mystery of evil, maybe the fear of being alone, the fear of being a sign of contradiction. Sometimes a desire for privilege can be also a desire to do evil which is diabolical. When we meet an individual we are always faced with the mystery of what happens in his heart, and there are no easy answers. Some of these people, after years of experience, managed to return to God, and this perhaps is the result of the sacrifice of their victims who died for their persecutors. The Archbishop was capabale of forgiving one of the people who tortured him and shook his hand during the trial of that man. This is a testimony to the faith. It starts with Christ and the first martyr St. Stephen.

Charles M.
N. Easton, MA
Archbishop Majdanski writes: "We must return man to God... man will never save himself" How does that lesson apply to our modern world, and how can we reach those who think man has all the answers?
Fr. Szymczak:
The first thing we need to pray for is humilty. Such an act of humility is frequenting the sacrament of penance. In this sacrament, we acknowledge God's mercy, and our weakness. If we are strong, it is only due to His grace. Frequent mass and frequent communion are ways to support the strength of the inner man. The modern world needs witnesses, not just preachers. There's a latin proverb: verba docent, exempla tacunt - words teach, examples attract.

John Thompson
Las Vegas, NM
Do you consider Archbishop Kazzimierz Majdanski a martyr? And if so, what criteria would you use?
Carl Anderson:
Of course it is for the Church to proclaim people martyrs in the technical sense, but I think if we look at the statement that Archbishop Majdanski - and the other camp survivors - sent to the Vatican in support of Saint Kolbe's canonization, and if we then look at the "witness" of his own life and testimony, we will see many of those traits that Saint Kolbe exhibited in the Archbishop as well.

Fr. Szymczak:
What was truly remarkably is that in the concentration camp was that he experienced the same suffering as those who died as a result. But after the camp, he became a witness and a confessor. God has preserved him so that he could witness to the civilization of life, and to become a beacon of family life. For many years as the founder of the Institute for Studies on the Family, he was a member of the Pontifical Council for the Family. He was also the deputy chairman of the synod of the bishop's on the family, which resulted in the exhortation familiaris consortio. He was almost a martyr, but he led his life as a confessor and witness.

John Thomas
Wilkes Barre, Pa
The Archbishop survived both the Nazi and the Communist regime. While he suffered more directly at the hands of the Nazi's what was his opinion of Communist regime by comparison?
Fr. Szymczak:
Poles died at the hands of both regimes in Sept. 1939, we were assaulted by both of them, the Nazis and the Soviets. What he experienced during the six years of his imprisonment at the hands of the Nazis was extended during the nearly sixty years of Communist domination. And the mechanism of these two are the same and so is the hatred they both display. This can be exemplified by Popieluszko, killed by the Communist secret police simply for preaching the gospel, the good news about the dignity of the human being. For years, the Communists were critical of the creation of the Institute for the Studies of the Family just because its mission was to serve family.

Dave Babbitt
W Springfield
What was it like being imprisoned by the Nazis?
Fr. Szymczak:
For instance, you had to stand at attention for hours on end, regardless of the weather out in the main square of the concentration camp, and that gave the priests an opportunity to pray. The Polish priests in the concentration camp, were not allowed to say Mass. There was a chapel in the barracks of the German priests who were also in the camp, and it was the German priests who brought the eucharist to the Polish priests which they hid and then gave to other prisoners. The realization that they were allowed to suffer for the name of Christ gave them a fealing of an unbelievable closeness to Christ. It was difficult for us to listen to our Archbishop, our founder, when he told us that his stay the conceration camp for him was a time of experiencing an amazing grace from God. God does not leave his servants, even in the hell of concentration camp. Christ was the source of their strength.

Fr. Szymczak:
I’m very glad the archibshop’s book has been made available for American readers, and we would like that book to become another way of expressing God’s interest in the lives of all people. There is no such time, no such place, and no such tragedy where there wouldn’t be a room to be witness to Jesus Christ. We would like the testimony of Archbishop Majdanski to inspire others, to protect the civilization of life and love."

Carl Anderson:
Thank you all for joining us this evening, and a special thanks to Fr. Szymczak who joined us from Poland. Please join us next month as we discuss "Called to Love" - a book I wrote with Fr. Jose Granados on Pope John Paul II's theology of the body.

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